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How Google's Privacy Policy Affects You

Tips to protect yourself from phishing scams and releasing too much information to advertisers

En español | If you're tuned into the world of technology, you've probably already heard about Google's new privacy policies, which are set to go into effect on March 1. But you may not fully understand how this change will affect you. Here are answers to some of the questions you might have:

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Shocked people staring at laptop screen-how to protect your privacy online

Taking the right steps to protect yourself online can prevent possible embarrassment down the road. — Photo by Westend61/Getty Images

What is Google changing? As you know, Google is a lot more than a search engine. The company actually runs 70 services, including such popular destinations as Google Maps, YouTube, Gmail, the Google+ social network, the Picasa photo sharing service and Google Voice (a free online telephone service). Up until now, each of these services has maintained its own privacy policy dictating what would be done with information about your online activity. Starting next month, 60 of the services will be governed by a single, overarching policy that allows sharing of your information across Google-owned sites. (The other 10 services, including the Google Wallet pay-by-phone system, are subject to governmental regulation and aren't included in the change.)

What is the practical effect of these changes? At its core, this change in privacy policy is about more accurately targeting online ads to suit your interests by analyzing your activity across all the Google offerings. For example, if you use the Internet to look for recipes, Google might interpret a Web search for "apple" to mean the fruit rather than the computer company. Keep in mind that Google makes its money by selling ads to finance the free services it provides. And if that targeting leads to a higher response rate through more relevant offerings, that's good for Google — and perhaps even for you as a consumer.

Is Google sharing my information with other sites? To be clear, this profiling is limited to use within Google properties only, which include YouTube, Gmail and Google +. The company promises not to sell the information it obtains to outsiders. And it's primarily being used to provide you advertising that matches your personal requirements — not to provide information about your oddball tastes to government agencies.

Next: How to minimize what information Google collects. >>

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